Leaving Grau d’Agde about 9.45 am, we were in good time for the 11.30 ascent up the Agde round lock, and I bought bread, strawberries, beetroot and potatoes from the stall just by the lock whilst we waited.
Once in the lock, and as it filled, we were surprised that the west bound boat was the first to leave. Once he’d left, the lock filled some more and then the three eastbound boats left. We’d assumed that as the canal is descending from west to east, that we would be the first to leave, but later we realised as we turned left back onto the Hérault, that lock exiting order would depend on the level of the river at any one time. After a few hundred yards we went through the flood lock and back onto the Canal du Midi. We’d forgotten about this little deviation from the canal onto the river.
Before too long we were at the last lock on the Midi. Three years ago, when we first came down to the Midi, we were quite stunned to see the oval shape and how far the bollards were set back from the edge. How accustomed to all of this we’ve become.
Earlier when we’d negotiated the round lock at Agde we’d shared it with an elderly couple in a tiny dinghy with an outboard motor. It really was small, with only enough shelter for two small people to curl up at the front of the boat. She must have been in her late seventies with long grey hair, wearing a baseball cap, a floating floral dress and flip flops. There’d been some problems with them at the round lock, and the lockie had spent a lot of time trying to take their ropes from the guy in the boat, as the elderly lady looked on from the quayside. They moored up shortly after leaving the lock, but joined us again after lunch at the next lock.
The man seems to have a lot of problems drawing the boat alongside anything, be it a bank or a lock wall, and at this lock, just as he had at the bank before the lock, he brought his boat in with the bow at right angles to the lock wall whilst the woman walked gingerly along the narrow side of the boat and hauled herself up onto the lock side from the bow of the boat.
Later I wondered whether in fact he did this on purpose, so that the weight of someone levering themselves off from the side didn’t turn the boat over. Whatever, flip-flops were not ideal footwear for the exercise. I heard them tell the lockie they were going onto the Etang and calling in at all the ports on the way across!
We moored up just after the lock. Very hot again, with very little breeze, which will be a good thing for crossing L’Etang, but suggests another restless night ahead. We plan to make an early start in the morning to do the 5 kilometres to the Etang at first light, and to start the crossing before the winds get up.
Tuesday 13 September
Yesterday I discovered five mozzie bites on my left arm. Since we’re approaching the Camargue region, it’s hardly surprising, so last night I sprayed the bedroom several times before bedtime, and had the plug-in mozzie deterrent going all day. At bedtime I coated my arms, legs and shoulders with Autan. And during the night got bitten on the face.
We set off around 8.15, heading into the sun which was quite difficult. This is a depressing stretch of the Midi, and I remember three years ago feeling very disappointed as we headed west, and wondering what the fuss had been about, with it’s muddy shallows and sparse distribution of trees. Still, it is teeming with wild life, herons, coypu and jumping fish.
Went out onto L’Etang at 9.00am. Headed for the corner of the first projecting oyster bed where two marker buoy posts became visible, red and green.
About ten minutes later the next two buoys came into sight. Neither of us remember seeing these buoys when we crossed three years ago. Neville had plotted waypoints, and entered them into the GPS and the GPS compass on the tablet. Reassuringly, as we crossed, both were within a fraction of a degree of each other!
There were fewer fishermen about than last time.
Detected the third set of marker buoys. Quite well spaced out, you have to really scan with the bino’s to locate the next one. You couldn’t do it with the naked eye. Not as smooth a crossing as last time, when the word ‘mill pond’ really did spring to mind. As we reached the half way point the wind strengthened and there was quite a bit of motion, though no white-tops.
As we came to the section where there is a gap in the oyster beds the fourth set of marker buoys came into sight. Two boatloads of pompiers crossed our path travelling at extremely high speed, possibly on a training exercise, and sending out a wake that made for a couple of uncomfortable minutes. You could be reassured that if you needed them they would be there in no time at all.
Passed the black and yellow marker buoys which mark the channel towards Frontignan at 10.40 and entered the Canal Rhone a Sete (red and white marker on the port side) 10 minutes later. Moored second in the queue for the bridge, but decided to overnight here and catch the early bridge opening. Some navigation guides will tell you there are three bridge openings, but in fact there are now only two, 4.00pm and 8.30am.
At 4.00pm the bridge raised and there was a constant stream of boats coming through for a full 15 minutes, and then only a further 5 minutes of boats coming from our direction. The traffic built up to a level where people were out of their cars and strolling about.
A pleasant evening on the quayside before the bridge. The last few days the temperatures have become more comfortable during the evenings when we are up in the wheelhouse, but still very uncomfortable below decks during the night.
Wednesday 14 September
We went under the bridge shortly after 8.00am, there being about four boats travelling in either direction. Leaving the town, the channel curving to the right before going straight on, is clearly marked by buoys on either side. Neither of us remembered this from the last time we came through in the opposite direction.
The canal Rhone a Sete is fairly boring, once you’ve got over the novelty of cruising a fairly straight navigation with salt lakes on either side, separated by a thin strip of land which at times is only about a car’s width. There are only so many flamingos that you can find interesting to photograph, though there are are tiny enclaves en route, just small fishermens’ cottages with a mooring for their boats. Many of these have now become holiday homes.
Around PK57 there is a new mooring spot that wasn’t there last time. No services or anything, but the bank has been concrete reinforced and there are mooring posts. If you didn’t want to hang around on the ‘frankly not attractive’ side of the bridge at Frontignan, you could always moor up here – it’s less than hour to the bridge. The navigation guides say there are bollards at PK56 but there aren’t. Although the bank is concreted you’d have to use mooring pins.
Around 10.30 we came to the floating bridge at Maguelonne. This bridge is motorised and opens and shuts at great speed. There is an abbey within walking distance if you were able to find moorings here. The sides have been concreted, and there are stakes in the ground.
We kept going right through lunch, not that there was anywhere for us to tie up. The canal is being widened for a significant stretch, and much work is being undertaken to reinforce the sides.
We later learned that the 63 km from Petit Rhone lock to Sete is to be widened to 16 metres, (against 6m now) with a 3m depth. This is so that the size of commercials can be increased to 2,500 tonnes and also to reduce transit times. It’s anticipated these barges will carry 2 layers of standard containers. Indeed, we’d started to come across a couple of barges more typical of what you would see on the Rhone, and in several places we saw the ‘ducs d’Albert’ to moor them. We overtook one of them, a huge VNF barge with a lady at the wheel; it seemed to take forever.
Around lunchtime we passed the turning for Aigues Mortes; we carried straight on, heading for Galician where we moored up for the evening. By this time there was quite heavy commercial traffic going up and down the canal, and once or twice we had to hammer the mooring pins further into the ground.
Thursday 15 September
Our plan had been to moor at Beaucaire locks on the first night, but Neville changed his mind overnight and decided to try for Avignon, so we made an early start, getting through St Gilles lock onto Le Petit Rhone by 9.15am. The rise on this lock was in the region of 4 inches, but it still seemed to take a long time. It was a beautiful morning, the trees along Le Petit Rhone showing only the barest tint of gold.
At 11.45am we left Le Petit Rhone and joined the Rhone itself. Almost immediately we had a heavy sand barge not far behind us, very low in the water, and within minutes a container laden barge heading downstream towards us. Apart from a little yacht close to the confluence of the rivers, the first boats we had seen today.
We were only clearing the first lock at Beaucaire by 2.30pm having had a 45 minute wait on one of the two pontoons on the left of the lock. (You can’t see the second pontoon as you approach.) A yacht had breasted up to us and asked for access across our boat for their border collie to enable him to take a comfort break, and we were joined in the lock with a steel cruiser as well.
The female lock-keeper who’d greeted us on the VHF spoke a little English after she heard my fractured French, but by the time we entered the lock, the shift must have changed. Once we’d tied up, the male lockie kept relentlessly asking questions in French over the VHF, repeating them even when I thought I’d answered them. Eventually I did what I usually do under such circumstances, which is to offer as much information as I can possibly think of, in the hope that some part of it meets what is required. By the time I got to my mother’s maiden name, I think he was losing the will to live. I know I was.
In the stretch above Beaucaire lock we managed to get up to 10.2 kph at 1600 rev, highest speed we’d had today on our journey upstream. Most of the time we’d been around 7.8 to 8.2 kph.
Waiting to enter, as we left, was the huge, gruesome looking hotel boat Arosa, the one with a pair of luscious red lips painted on the front. We’d seen her several times on our journey down 3 years ago, and to be honest, she was still looking in pretty good condition, if less than aesthetically pleasing.
Just before we reached Avignon a fair-sized speedboat came up behind us, sending out a wash that cleared out our bathroom cupboards, opened all the drawers in the bedroom furniture and had me gripping the sides of the wheelhouse white-knuckled as 26 tons of dutch barge appeared to be on the point of turning over.
Arrived in Avignon at 5.00pm, circumnavigating the old bridge which stops about three
quarters of the way across the river. The moorings looked to be absolutely chokker, and as we cruised slowly down, the capitaine came on the scene, moved an old barge further up the quay and brought us in. Such a relief, we couldn’t have continued we were both really tired. At 29 euros (water and electricity included) it’s not cheap and it’s very noisy, (a busy road right next to the mooring) but both are more or less what we would expect from a city mooring.
Friday 16th September
Another hot day, 30 degrees. Went for a walk in the old town in the morning, and out again in the afternoon to photograph the old bridge and the walls around the old town. The Halles, the indoor market was one of the best I’ve seen with the widest range of delicatessen items and meats.
Avignon is a beautiful city, and you can’t do it justice in a day. There’s also a constant stream of traffic around the old town, and you can wait for ages to cross the road at uncontrolled zebra crossings.
Saturday 16th September
Up very early, well six thirty, so we could get off at first light. The forecast for today and tomorrow is sunny with light winds, but Monday and Tuesday promise high winds with gusts of 55-65 mph. We could probably do to get as far north as we can over the next two days.
Reached Avignon lock at 8.15, having set off around 7.30am. There is a pontoon below the lock for waiting.
We passed the mooring at Roquemar, a concreted stretch with bollards. It’s on the outer side of a bend and reputedly not so good during the Mistral, as you might imagine. Arrived at Caderousse Lock at 10.30am and breasted up on the pontoon with a French yacht. Passed St Etienne de Rochers, where the pontoon where you used to be able to moor has disappeared. We believe there are metal rings on the wall, but care might need to be taken to avoid the remaining stanchions that used to support the pontoon.
Arrived Bollene at 1.30 having just missed the yacht’s ascent. I’d called the lockie to announce our imminent arrival but he’d let the other one through ten minutes earlier. Then I think he forgot about us until I nudged him again at 1.50 to ask how long, when he said it would be 20 minutes and promptly set about preparing the lock. We didn’t get secured in the lock until 2.15, because even though the gates were open, the lights remained on red and green until I nudged him on the VHF again! Cleared the lock at 2.40.
The weather was hot and humid, towards the west some ominous grey sheets of thundery cloud developed, whilst on the east great thunderheads were mushrooming into the sky.Soon the storm clouds were all around us.
Chateauneuf Ecluse – very speedy filler. No turbulence, indeed very little movement on any of these Rhone locks.
Planned to moor above the lock, but when we got there at around 6.00pm we found the yacht that had been moored behind us at Avignon on Thursday night was already there. They were really kind, and shifted position so that we could both be accommodated on the pontoon. The boat owner was a young American woman, and her partner was a Frenchman who spoke no English who she’d taken on as a captain. They conversed in Spanish most of the time, and I think he might have been the owner of the lovely little dog they had with them. I’d seen him taking great care of it at Avignon.
The storm circled around but was never truly overhead, and it didn’t start to rain until after we had gone to bed. There was still a fair bit of activity on the river during the evening, with passenger boats and barges going by.
A family of swans congregated in the water to the side of the pontoon, and came round to sample the remains of our supper just before we went to bed.
Sunday 17th September
Once or twice in the night we heard big boats going past. Then around 5-ish, the official lock opening time, the traffic increased slightly and we got up at 6.30am, leaving the pontoon at 7.30am.
During the night a small boat must have come downstream, and had moored on the inside of the pontoon. Woke to unsettled weather and it was barely light when we set off.
This is our third day travelling on the Rhone, and on the journey down it was our last day. On that occasion we covered the distance between St Etienne les Rochers and the Canal Rhone a Sete in one day. We are only at PK 164, so travelling upstream will extend our trip by one day at least. On the derivations we’ve tended to stick close to the edge and on the inside of bends, which has increased our speeds slightly. In the main though, since we got above Beaucare, we’ve ranged between 9.8 kph and the occasional 11.5. The forecast for strong winds had down-graded somewhat, and been put back a little. We were also further north now, which on this occasion was not so much affected.
There’s a much fresher feel to the weather after last night’s storms and during the course of the morning we changed out of shorts into jeans, and from sandals to trainers, before closing all the windows below decks. I began to wonder where I’d stashed the continental quilt. Who could believe it in the space of 24 hours?
Went through a fairly wide stretch, passing Cruas moorings on the way and arrived at Ecluse Logis Neuf at 9.30am. We’d noticed we were being followed by a large push-tug, and we checked the movements (on http://www.inforhone.fr ) at Chateauneuf to see who had come up behind us. There were three commercials listed, so it was no surprise when we moored on the plaisance pontoon to be told by the lockie that there would be a wait of one hour.
There’s a fairly strong current approaching Logis Neuf, and though the winds were forecast to be very light we found it was very gusty just round here. Consequently we hit one of the duc d’Alberts with the stern when the wind caught us, but not badly. A fisherman right in the lock approach displayed his exasperation at how close we came to him, and his son threw something at us. The wind was so strong onto the bank however, that whatever it was, it returned to its owner. I just love the way these fisherman know all about wind conditions, current conditions and handling a 26 ton steel boat.
When the first commercial arrived we discovered that the three components, two dumb barges and the tug itself constituted the three ‘ships’ we’d seen on the website, making a total of 178 metres in a 190 mere lock. We weren’t too fussed about joining him at the back of the lock. His progress into the lock was understandably slow and it was 10.15 am before the gates closed behind him and the locking process began. So much for getting up early!
We eventually cleared the lock at 11.15 am. Above the lock there were several damaged dolphins, and it was still very windy, so maybe this is just one of those stretches where the wind funnels through. The forecast is only 10 kph rising to 20 this afternoon. By now it was raining heavily, and we were cold and fed up.
About 5 kilometres before the locks, on a fairly wide stretch, we crossed with yet another speed boat. This one at least gave us a wide berth and slowed slightly, but we once again re-visited the contents of the bathroom cupboards.
Arrived at Ecluse de Beauchastel just after 1.00pm for a red light. On ‘inforhone’ it seemed that two commercials might be coming down, having left the lock at Valence at 11.37. It turned out to be another two dumb barges with a tug, taking up the full length of the lock. Once the lock was emptied, it took 15 minutes for the convoy to clear it entirely and we weren’t secured in the lock until 2.00pm. Just not our day, I guess.
The weather brightened and we went through Valance lock, mooring up on the plaisance pontoon at the top. A disappointing day. All in all we must have spent 4 hours hanging around at locks and made nowhere near the progress we had expected. A hotel boat, a barge and a couple of pleasure boats went past but nothing overnight. More rain during the night.
Monday 19th September
A hotel boat went down the lock around 6.45 am and we were away by 7.15,
following the barge Leda which had moored up at the dolphins just upstream of us. 45 minutes later we passed La Roche de Glun, which had been suggested as a possible mooring. You can’t see it until you’re almost on it, as it’s set slightly back on yourself, but it looked like a good spot, a floating pontoon belonging to a boat club, but permitting plaisanciers, we’ve been told. Looked like quite a nice little town too.
Around 9 ish we passed through Tournon, a pretty little town but, as ever, not over-blessed with facilities for larger private boats. A grand hotel boat was in place there, and I suppose so long as the towns can attract the large hotel boats, they’re not so bothered about the larger private boats.
Now that we’re further north, there is a bit more red, yellow and gold in the trees, but even so, autumn is not as far advanced as I had expected.
Very quick locking at Gervans, out the other side within forty minutes of our arrival, including the wait for someone coming down the lock. Just before PK 75 we came to the little town of Saint-Vallier. The navigation guide said there was a quayside halt there, close to shops, but we could see nothing similar to the photo. As we cruised past the town we spotted what looked like a new floating pontoon at the end of town. A great little mooring!
It’s close to a camp site, and there are poubelles, two boulangeries on the main road to the left as you leave the mooring, and one to the right. A little further up the road to the left, you come to an Intermarche, about 750 metres further on. An excellent stop for shopping and lunch for us.
We (at 16 metres) fit comfortably on the pontoon, and could have moved up to overhang the end if someone else had come, or you could easily fit two small-medium boats there. Highly recommended.
On we pressed after lunch, in occasional heavy rain. The temperature is around 14 or 15 degrees, a far cry from three or four days ago. Further on, at Andancette, we saw another floating pontoon on the left bank of the river, opposite the town Andance. A possible mooring though you’d have to cross the bridge to get to shops and services in Andance, and the river is quite wide here.
Ecluse de Sablon at 2.30pm – straight in. The first time we’ve timed it right! We haven’t seen much traffic on the river today, very quiet for a Monday.
Pulled up at Chavanay, a little village on the bend of the river.
A nice floating pontoon by the two stone columns which are remains of an ancient bridge
and which also serve as a monument for a French soldier who was arrested here by the Nazis in August 1944, shot two days later and his body thrown into the Rhone. Later on a tanker went by at high speed and there was quite a lot of turbulence. Hope there’s not much traffic during the night.
Phoned ahead to the new marina at Lyon to book for two nights. The guy there speaks English. There was little traffic on the river during the evening, and only one commercial went through during the night, making very little disturbance for us.
Tuesday 20th September
Dawn was just breaking as we left. It was a fine clear day, so it was light enough to get underway at 7.15am. There was a bit more wind today, but so far not up to the levels that had been forecast some days ago.
About 45 minutes later we passed Les Roches de Condrieu, where there would have been enough space on the outside pontoon to accommodate us last night. When we came down here three years ago this was the first of three overnight stops we made on theRhone.
A short while later, at PK 35, Ampuis, we came across an excellent, larger than average pontoon with room for several boats and one which would easily accommodate longer boats like ours. This wasn’t here when we came down last time, and looks very new, with some kind of eating facilities on shore. Very picturesque location, and we wished we’d carried on for a bit longer yesterday afternoon.
Arrived at Vaugris earlier than we had expected, and were told 15 minutes, but then a passenger boat loomed behind us. He entered the lock before us when the green light came on, and immediately the lockie switched to red and green.
We heard on the VHF there was a commercial approaching also. We’d seen them on inforhone but hadn’t thought they would get here this soon. I checked the lengths on inforhone, totalling around 160 metres so we thought we’d get in. My worry, (and I’m the first to admit that I ‘do’ worrying to perfection) was that though we’d get in, we might not be correctly positioned for our midship line on the sliding bollard.
It was tight, but we were OK, with about a metre between our bow and the sterm of the commercial.
We’ve been very lucky this trip, mostly having the locks to ourselves, and where we did share it was with other pleasure craft, so this was our first ‘cosy’ locking! I’d give it a miss for the future, given a choice.
And on to our last lock of the Rhone, letting the commercial and the passenger boats steam on ahead.
Into Vienne, where we could see a floating pontoon mooring just before a longer one near the bridge.
The mooring at Givors appears to be several finger pontoons with a space on the
downstream end giving bankside mooring for a longer boat. A Sapeurs Pompier boat was moored in that spot.
It was a long haul up to St Pierre Bénite lock, and in the derivation, despite hugging the inside of the channel, we only averaged about 8 kph.
Consequently it was 2.30pm when we finally went through Lyon and berthed at the Port Grand Lyon at PK 1 on the Saone, an impressive new marina, surrounded by apartments and what look like exhibition/conference halls.
Someone had been allocated to the hammerhead we had reserved, (for which the capitaine was very apologetic) and we moored just inside the entrance temporarily until the other boat could be moved. There’s a lot of turbulence here when big craft go past on theSaone, so it’s not as desirable as the hammerhead, which is further into the port area, and also probably a bit more secure.
After an hour or so we were in our reserved position and connected up to water and electricity. The pontoon has a security gate at the end so it really is more secure. The marina is designed primarily for smaller boats, so if you’re more than 12m you’d probably need to ring ahead to reserve the hammerhead, or the bankside just to the left as you enter the marina.
There is an internet connection, but might not be so strong depending on where your boat is located in relation to the capitainerie. There is a desk and chair in the capitainerie itself where you can take your computer if necessary. There are showers and toilets and washing facilities on site, a boulangerie a hundred yards or so down the quay, a supermarket round the corner and a tram service which will take you to the tube service, which will take you to the city centre.
The Capitaine, Cyril, is extremely helpful and friendly and speaks perfect English though he’s of Portuguese and French descent. And all for 12 euros per night (max stay officially 4 nights.)
How this place has changed in the three years since we last came through!
NB: (We returned to the Grand Lyon Marina in September 2012 and our experiences were much less positive, and the cost had escalated to 20 euros per night for boats in excess of 15m.)
So here we are at the end of our journey up the Rhone. It’s been a reasonable, but at times boring trip, as progress has been slow, particularly below Beaucaire and the stretch between Vaugris and St Pierre Benite. We’ve been surprised and pleased at the number of new moorings that have sprung up in the villages along the way, and in particular the plaisance pontoons above and below every lock now.
Three years ago there was nothing like this number, and we can remember trying to rope up to dolphins, or just hanging around in the breeze whilst waiting for the locks. It’s good that from late afternoon onwards you can generally moor up at these plaisance pontoons too, so if you get to your favourite mooring to find it full, you only need to press on to the next lock to find your fall-back for the evening.
Thanks to Mike and Jane (Drumsara) and Andy and Chris (Edwina Rose) for their recommendations regarding overnight stops. These were very useful and reassuring to have them to refer to along the way.
The http://www.inforhone.fr site has been invaluable for checking activity at each of the 12 Rhone locks, indicating what type of craft (pleasure, passenger or commercial) are on the move, all in real time and giving the length of the commercial craft so you can work out whether there will be room in the lock for you if there are two or more of them.
We also used the Meteo website to take daily weather forecasts (including wind speed and direction) throughout the trip.
We’ll stay in Lyon for a couple of nights now, and then undertake the next, briefer stage of our journey to Pont de Vaux.
NB: More posts on Lyon at: